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Oberlin Studio at Guitar Retreat in Scotland

Oberlin Studio at Guitar Retreat in Scotland

Five out of the six members of last spring's Oberlin guitar studio joined my wife and me for a five-day guitar extravaganza on the island of Greater Cumbrae, off the western coast of Scotland. Organized and led by the perpetually cheerful and reliably hilarious Matthew McAllister, the event  was a pure delight.

The setting was truly unforgettable: the island is romantically wind-swept and surprisingly pastoral, with only one small village nestled around the harbor and the rest of the island, vistas of pastureland and stone walls backed by the moody sea and the distant mountains of the mainland.  The festival, or "retreat" as Matthew would have it, took place entirely on the grounds of the village's cathedral, famously Europe's smallest. Most participants were lodged on the campus of the cathedral (some were housed in other locations around the island); an able staff prepared and served three meals a day for everyone. Teaching took place in several rooms about the building and performances were held in the grand (if small!) sanctuary. It was nothing if not friendly and intimate.

The staff assembled by Mr. McAllister was excellent. Concerts were given by England's Amanda Cook, Cuba/USA's René Izquierdo, Canada's Patrick Kearney, Slovenia's Uros Baric and of course by Mr. McAllister himself, who was accompanied by his wife, flutist Aisling Agnew for part, and by guitarist Allan Neave for part as well. In addition, I was a staff teacher, along with Peter Stewart and Allan Neave. At the Retreat's conclusion, there was the famous Quiz, emceed by the indefatigable Matthew McAllister, in which the crowd, broken up into four teams, grew uproarious trying to grapple with a range of guitar-related trivia, long into the night.

Classes and lessons were found by my students to be excellent all-round. The concerts were first-rate, and the overall experience, including the housing, the food, the mood, pacing and character of the event, and the location, all conspired to create a truly fantastic experience for all. Of special note was the easy balance between adult guitar hobbyists and serious collegiate professional-track players. In the absence of a competition, the event encouraged an unusual level of cross-generational camaraderie, a mood much enabled by our many meals together at  long communal dining tables.

Following is a pictorial essay, capturing key moments of the event.

Oberlin Studio (+), in front of Cathedral: Sarah, Lenny Ranallo, JoNell & Stephen Aron, Mohit Dubey, Collin Sterne, Brian King

Oberlin Studio (+), in front of Cathedral: Sarah, Lenny Ranallo, JoNell & Stephen Aron, Mohit Dubey, Collin Sterne, Brian King

The Retreat opened with a student recital. The students, arriving from all over the world (including from Sydney, Santiago, Geneva, Seattle, and of course, Oberlin), played solo selections. Following are shots of the Oberlin studio members during this concert.

Mohit Dubey performs three movements from Torroba's Castles of Spain

Mohit Dubey performs three movements from Torroba's Castles of Spain

Brian King plays Bach's Prelude BWV 1006a.

Brian King plays Bach's Prelude BWV 1006a.

Stephen Fazio played the Cançoneta from Ascencio's Suite Valenciana.

Stephen Fazio played the Cançoneta from Ascencio's Suite Valenciana.

Lenny Ranallo performed two of Martin's Quatre Pièces Breve.

Lenny Ranallo performed two of Martin's Quatre Pièces Breve.

Collin Sterne performed Berkeley's Theme and Variations.

Collin Sterne performed Berkeley's Theme and Variations.

The first feature artist performance was given by Montreal's Patrick Kearney. He played music of Ponce, Domeniconi and Koshkin, and newer works by Gougeon and Stafylakis.

Patrick Kearney

Patrick Kearney

Uros Baric, a young guitarist from Slovenia, was perhaps the busiest member of the Retreat's staff. In addition to teaching, giving a lecture on home recording and playing a solo recital, he was also recording students in 45-min. sessions, then editing the recordings for the students to take home with them. His recital, dedicated solely to the music of Fernando Sor, was pure elegance.

Uros Baric

Uros Baric

To launch each event of the Retreat, our host, Matthew McAllister, gave the indispensable prequel, made up of equal parts critical info and wisecracks. He was having fun.

Matthew McAllister talks.

Matthew McAllister talks.

The next feature artist was Amanda Cook, from England. She gave an extremely compelling performance with many lovely moments to take home. Her program included works by Tarrega, Bach, Moreno-Torroba, Möller, Broca, Villa Lobos and a delightful new work written for her by staff member and Glasgow native, Peter Stewart.

Amanda Cook

Amanda Cook

During the course of the event, there was plenty of time to explore the island. Here are a few shots of the environment we shared.

The ferry to the island.

The ferry to the island.

The path to the Cathedral, sown with wild garlic.

The path to the Cathedral, sown with wild garlic.

My wife, JoNell, and I rode tandem around the island--it is just over ten miles and full of breathtaking views.

My wife, JoNell, and I rode tandem around the island--it is just over ten miles and full of breathtaking views.

Meeting some of the boys in town for lunch. With Brian King and Stephen Fazio.

Meeting some of the boys in town for lunch. With Brian King and Stephen Fazio.

Walking to the top of the hill, with friends René Izquierdo and his wife Elina Chekan. The views were fabulous.

Walking to the top of the hill, with friends René Izquierdo and his wife Elina Chekan. The views were fabulous.

Hanging in the Cathedral's common room: Stephen Fazio, Collin Sterne, Mohit Dubey, Lenny Ranallo and his girlfriend, Sarah.

Hanging in the Cathedral's common room: Stephen Fazio, Collin Sterne, Mohit Dubey, Lenny Ranallo and his girlfriend, Sarah.

With some of the studio in front of the Cathedral: Brian King, Stephen Fazio, Collin Sterne and Mohit Dubey.

With some of the studio in front of the Cathedral: Brian King, Stephen Fazio, Collin Sterne and Mohit Dubey.

Brian, Diego, Roberto, Mohit, Lenny and Steve. Diego and Roberto were participants from Chile.

Brian, Diego, Roberto, Mohit, Lenny and Steve. Diego and Roberto were participants from Chile.

 

Mathew McAllister began his Saturday afternoon concert with duets with his one-time teacher, Scotland's guitar pedagogue-in-chief, Allan Neave. He continued with some solos, including Barrios' La Catedral and the quietest performance of anything I've ever heard, in a sublime rendering of a Satie Gnossienne.He also featured duets with his wife, Aisling Agnew, the superb flutist. Their duets were the musical-emotional highlight of the week for both me and for my wife. We were both brought to tears by their performance.

In the meantime, I had time to teach several individual lessons and coach some ensembles, including a duo playing the Albeniz Tango, a quartet playing a work by Andrew York, and this octet, playing an arrangement by Roberto Kuhn (second from right, with beard), of the fugue from Piazzolla's quintet for piano and string quartet. Here, we are rehearsing.

The octet rehearsing: Roberto, Zack (out of shot, from Scotland), Diego, Mohit, Collin, Brian, Maso (from Sydney), and Lenny.

The octet rehearsing: Roberto, Zack (out of shot, from Scotland), Diego, Mohit, Collin, Brian, Maso (from Sydney), and Lenny.

Saturday night, we had a guitar play-off, in which the luthiers visiting and showing instruments were treated to comparisons of their guitars, as played by the poetic Elina Chekan.

Saturday night, we had a guitar play-off, in which the luthiers visiting and showing instruments were treated to comparisons of their guitars, as played by the poetic Elina Chekan.

Here we are with the Retreat's youngest participant, Martha, and her mom, Aisling Agnew. Martha was consistently bright and cheery, a lovely and good-natured baby. Matthew and Aisling are very lucky indeed!

Here we are with the Retreat's youngest participant, Martha, and her mom, Aisling Agnew. Martha was consistently bright and cheery, a lovely and good-natured baby. Matthew and Aisling are very lucky indeed!

René Izquierdo bagan his Sunday afternoon concert with duets with his wife, Elina Chekan. René played a thrilling program replete with intense emotionalism and startling virtuosity. 

Peter Stewart, Glasgow guitar professor, led the guitar orchestra on our final night, in a performance of a piece he wrote for the occasion. It was all about Matthew and Aisling and got quite a response from the honored couple and the crowd alike.

This quartet was featured for part of the guitar orchestra piece. Zach, Gary, Mohit and Roberto played. 

This quartet was featured for part of the guitar orchestra piece. Zach, Gary, Mohit and Roberto played. 

The octet was the final act of the concert, bringing the crown to a rousing finale. Here pictured playing are Lenny, Maso, Brian and Collin.

The octet was the final act of the concert, bringing the crown to a rousing finale. Here pictured playing are Lenny, Maso, Brian and Collin.

The other half of the octet: Collin, Mohit, Diego, Zack and Roberto.

The other half of the octet: Collin, Mohit, Diego, Zack and Roberto.

The Retreat ended with the Quiz concocted by Matthew. By it's conclusion, the crowd was rowdy and happy. Here we all are: 

The entire crowd of students and faculty after the Quiz and at about 2am Monday morning.

The entire crowd of students and faculty after the Quiz and at about 2am Monday morning.

Thank you to Matthew McAllister for arranging such a wonderful time for all the participants. And a special thanks to the Oberlin Conservatory Guitar Studio secret benefactor, who made attending this event for the students possible. We'll never forget it!!

Oberlin's Plucked Instrument Collection

Oberlin's Plucked Instrument Collection

2016 Stroud Classical Guitar Entrepreneurship Awards: $5,000 Distributed

2016 Stroud Classical Guitar Entrepreneurship Awards: $5,000 Distributed

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